As health care providers, we try to push the importance of vaccination. There are so many diseases that can be deadly, why would you not want to give your child every protection possible? This is a very controversial topic for many, but today I just want to focus on one that is not required but is extremely beneficial to teens. The HPV vaccine has been out long enough now, we are starting to see the many benefits of this vaccine, but there are so many parents that choose not to do this vaccine for their children.
What is HPV? It is a virus transmitted through skin to skin contact. There are over 150 variations of this virus that are classified into 40 types many of which can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, and oropharyngeal cancer. Currently we have vaccines that protect up to 9 strains.
Approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV.
About 14 million people become newly infected each year.
About half (49%) of these new infections will be among people ages 15-24.
HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.
One of the most common responses is, “my child is not sexually active.” I certainly hope this is not true at age 11, although it has happened. The purpose of the vaccine being given at an early age is to get it in the system and building an immune response before the child is ever sexually active. According to American Cancer Society, statistics show approximately half of the girls in high school have had vaginal sex.
What most parents do not realize is that Oral-genital and hand-genital transmission of some genital HPV types is possible so vaginal sex is not necessary to transmit.
Here are more specific numbers that may surprise you as it did me. 7% of kids aged 12 to 13 have had sex, 28% by age 15, one-third by age 16, 48% by age 17, 61% by age 18 and 71% by age 19. More than 25% of teens have had more than one partner and 11% of high school students have had sexual intercourse with four or more partners.
Another common response is “I don’t want my child to think they have permission to have sex.” Believe it or not, actual research has been done indicating that HPV vaccination has had no notable difference in the markers of sexual activity.
Adolescents have their last set of vaccines at 11, so it works out well to start HPV at this time. We may not get these adolescents back in the office to start the vaccine later. Also the body illicits a greater immune response and produces higher antibody levels when given at this age.
If asked the question, “ Would you give your child a vaccine if you new it would prevent cancer?” I can tell you my answer would wholeheartedly be YES!!! That is exactly what this vaccine is doing. Too many are blinded because HPV falls under the umbrella of an STD. HPV strains 16 and 18 (the most popular HPV strains) are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. The risk of cervical dysplasia which leads to cancer reduces the risk by 44%. That’s a pretty significant number to me!
For those that are concerned about the safety of the vaccine, there are multiple studies that have been done that show it is well tested and extremely safe.